I had a couple of visits to Margate recently, one outside the Turner Contemporary and one inside. The outside visit was a walk around the Old Town area which has been nicely restored and provides an interesting backcloth to TC. It was Wednesday morning so things were quiet but on Thursday when I returned it was a bit livelier. What struck me from an architectural point of view was the thin veneer of prosperity which has been added to the seafront facing the TC. This will be extended towards the railway station with the renovation of Dreamland Cinema, maybe Tesco’s new superstore and eventually the Dreamland vintage amusement park.
Behind this veneer are acres of derelict and semi-derelict premises which in years gone by would have been buzzing with holiday makers or supporting the establishments who were accommodating the holidaymakers. Now those holidaymakers have gone elsewhere there are just too many buildings to find practical uses for their future. Where this happened in Northern towns, the councils purchased many with the help of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and bulldozed them, making parks and open spaces between the remaining buildings. This approach was not considered a success up North so it is probably not the best solution for Margate.
What is needed is to make the seafront “relevant” again. People used to flock to the seaside, they do no more. Children were allowed to roam free; they are now permanently supervised by protective parents. The whole nature of society has changed. If a Middle Class mum wants her children to go swimming, dancing, ice skating, horse riding, or whatever, she puts them into a car, takes them there and brings them back.
There are many financially secure families, living in private houses on Thanet estates, working probably in Canterbury, shopping at Westwood Cross and only going to the beaches when the weather is baking hot. Run down historic town centres have little effect on their lives. We must make the seafront relevant again by introducing family orientated and supervised entertainments and also have a serious re-think on car parking strategies